Opinion | Staggered returns should re-open the fees debate


By Theo Kent, Second Year, English

Since Monday 8th March, some students have been part of a limited return to in-person teaching while the vast majority of us have not. The disparity between courses in this sense, sets an unpleasant precedent that some courses are worth more than others.

According to the university website, the introduction of the staggered reopening has only applied to a small amount of students, with the remainder of the student body continuing to struggle with online-only courses. It is only right that students begin to return to university, but a staggered return surely reopens the debate of fee reductions.

The phrase ‘blended learning’ may send a shiver down the spine of many students. The University has relentlessly clung to the phrase, which for many of us has become increasingly mythical and illusory.

In a similar vein to the infamous ‘strong and stable’ slogan of Theresa May’s general election effort, ‘blended learning’ for many of us represents a blatant misinterpretation of the truth. Because of this, the university is dangerously close to losing all credibility and trustworthiness amongst the student body.

In an email sent by the university to all students on July 31st last year, the approach to blended learning was plainly laid out: ‘Your lecturers have designed a blend of in-person and online classes to support your learning and provide you with the high-quality education that we offer’. For many, this promise would be bent and broken.

The consensus among both the university and many students is that we should stay at home, and part of this is the suspension of in-person classes. Rightly, both students and university staff have refrained from in-person teaching in order to prevent alarming levels of coronavirus.

‘Blended learning’ for many of us represents a blatant misinterpretation of the truth

However, the fact remains that ‘blended learning’ has been repeatedly, and falsely promised, and staggered returns to in-person teaching demonstrate the inherent unfairness of this system when everyone is still paying the same fees.

In most cases, when goods or services are promised but not delivered, the buyer receives a refund. Why is it then, that when students are promised in-person teaching, and receive little or none, compensation is out of the question?

Blended learning was promised by the university to entice those who might be hesitant to study in the 2020-21 academic year. Clearly, it was a quick-fix to offset the reduction in both international and domestic student revenue caused by the pandemic.

The University has behaved like a business by using an ostensibly catchy buzz-word to attract student customers

The University has behaved like a business by using an ostensibly catchy buzz-word to attract student customers. And yet, this business-like behaviour disappears at the mention of reimbursement.

The introduction of a staggered return to in-person teaching is deeply problematic: in a system where we’re told that any degree from any university is worth the same amount in financial terms, the disparity in face-to-face learning in our own university clearly represents a failure to act proportionately alongside the covid crisis.

Of course, medical students must experience practical work, and the same applies for drama students and chemists as these courses have a particular emphasis on practical experience. However, that doesn’t mean that all other subjects don’t need in-person teaching.

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To further the frustration, the many students that remain in online-only teaching are being kept in the dark about when they might be able to return.

All the while, unoccupied university and private accommodation fees are continuing for the most part and many continue to struggle under lockdown restrictions.

A more decisive, if not transparent approach is needed by the university management. Many students do not expect to return to lectures and seminars this academic year, while others are already there, all for the same fees.

Featured Image: Unsplash / Andre Taissin

Do you think students should receive a tuition fee refund?